How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Share Your World with Others
Social anxiety is defined as a fear of being in groups, of interacting, taking actions and speaking in public, and of meeting new people. Coupled with that fear, sufferers also experience a secondary fear of negative judgment, both for who they are and for their social anxiety.
Many people who suffer from social anxiety respond to the condition by avoiding exposure to situations that trigger their fear.
Unfortunately, this means that social anxiety increases because the barrier to social gatherings gets higher. You get out of practice meeting people, particularly after you leave school.
You can end up isolated and depressed. But people with social anxiety often have a rich inner world that would be wonderful experience if they could share it more with others.
But social anxiety can be successfully treated with counseling, group work and some modern medications.
There are also ways to overcome social anxiety you can try for yourself. Look at the list below and take a few small steps to share your world with others. It will be very much worth it!
1. Name your fears
Social anxiety can overwhelm you.
One way of cutting it down to size is by naming your fears.
Write down a list, one by one. This will return a little bit of control to you, since you are doing the naming.
Then, put them in sequence, from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most frightening.
Already, you have engaged with the world around you, in your own mind. You have given it some structure.
2. Test out minor triggers
Now you have your list and your ‘anxiety rating.’ You can try to test out the least terrifying of your triggers.
If ‘talking to an attractive person’ is a 9, maybe asking the way to the library is a 1 or 2.
Try to test out triggers with a low rating and see what happens.
Ask one or two people the way to the library. Then, if you survive this intact, the next day ask four or five people.
You can slowly scale up the triggers to overcome your social anxiety step by step. Don’t forget to give yourself time off in between.
3. Give yourself a role
One of the best ways to overcome social anxiety is to have a clearly defined role.
If there is a buffet, you could be one of the servers behind the table. At a networking event, volunteer to stand at the door and take the tickets. If you go to a concert, help out with the setup or direct people to their seats.
People will interact with you in your ‘official’ function first. This will lower the threshold for further interactions.
Start with a small task that nobody else wants to do and you will even be mildly popular.
4. Prepare and test small talk
If you don’t know how to start talking to people at a free form social event, prepare and practice.
At home, write down a few conversation openers (tip: get them online!) and memorize them. This has two advantages: you will know what to say and you can pretend you are playing a role. Both of which helps a lot in overcoming social anxiety.
Once you have broken the ice with your pre-prepared small talk, focus on listening rather than talking. Research shows that people rate someone who listens as a pleasant person and retain a positive memory of the encounter.
6. Enlist support
Social anxiety is at its worst when you have to face trigger situations on your own. One proactive strategy is to attend events with a friend who can help you by making introductions and including you in activities. You will be surprised how much easier it gets with a little help from friends who actually enjoy interacting with strangers! Learn from them.
7. Structure your social environments
When you are struggling with social anxiety, it is much easier to start engaging with structured environments than tackling the free form interactions of a party.
Join a sports team or a choir, where you will have a clearly allocated role and clearly defined social interaction.
Volunteer in an organization that you believe in. This common goal will help you overcome your social anxiety more easily.
8. Plan your exit
Set a time limit on your exposure to the trigger situation. Leave when you choose.
9. Don’t be hard on yourself
As long as you try, there is no failure. Social anxiety is a tough condition. You will need time and practice to overcome it.
10. Give yourself time off to relax with your favorite solitary pursuits
You don’t have to give them up! Just open up your circle of experience, as slowly as you like, and share your world with others.